Friday, September 11, 2015

Tales From The $3.99 Bin! - Superman Unchained

In the last couple of years, Superman has gone through some changes with the New 52 and with the whole DC You phase. Don’t worry, folks. I’m not going to harp on about current stuff because I like most of it. Yeah, I’m not a fan of the concept of his identity being leaked (spoilers, by the way), but some of the stuff has been good. As you can tell by the image to the right, I ain’t talking about that today. I just wanted to get that out.

Superman Unchained was a new series released at the time Man of Steel was released in theatres. I think I got the first issue right before I saw the movie and I stayed with the series until the end. The big draw of the thing was that it had Scott Snyder (no relation to Zach Snyder) writing and everyone’s favorite slow artist, Jim Lee, handling the main art. Dustin Nguyen handles some 2-page backups and an extended flashback sequence in the later issues. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be an ongoing series or a miniseries. It was supposed to last 12 issues, but thanks to some slowness in the art, it got stopped at only nine issues. I’m looking at this today because it features a character that’s an analogue to Superman: Wraith. I’ll get to him later down below.

Superman Unchained
Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Jim Lee and Dustin Nguyen
Inks: Scott Williams
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Sal Cipirano
Editors: Chris Conroy and Matt Idelson

The main crux of the story deals with a new being coming into Superman’s life. Superman is busy after dealing with an attack by a new terrorist group called Ascension. They apparently “made it rain” satellites on Earth and he had to stop them. While Ascension may be the cause, Clark thinks Lex Luthor (who’s still in jail at this time) was behind it. After he connects with Lois and Jimmy in Metropolis, he investigates the wreckage of another satellite that was saved by someone else. At that moment, he gets attacked by a submarine and it’s somehow connected to everyone’s favorite general, Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross... Wait, I meant to say Gen. Sam “I'm a militaristic jackass” Lane.
This looks cool and all, but did it need to be a four-page poster?

After another attack from Ascension, Clark does some investigating on the unknown being. With Batman’s help, Superman finds out that the being that stopped the satellite also absorbs solar energy. The being  is also much more powerful than Clark is. He also finds out that this being may be located around Utah, so Superman heads out that way. There, he finds General Lane and a scuffle (which General Lane didn't have to start) breaks out. Luckily, the being know as Wraith stops it.
The Machine? Now I feel like listening to to Pink Floyd... yes, I'm a brother with some tastes.

After a little testing, Superman follows Wraith and the rest to an underground complex called The Machine. The organization was created by the government when Wraith’s ship crashed in 1938. It pretty much answers to no one and has been behind trying to keep America safe from different threats. Wraith, along with his peoples’ tech, has helped them do this and he is a secret. Lane and Superman get into an argument about how to actually protect the world when another Ascension attack happens in Tokyo. Superman and Wraith head there to take care of it and they do it in style.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane is taking a plane to Nova Scotia to interview a scientist who has ties to Ascension. Unfortunately, Ascension finds out about it and disables her plane. The scientist somehow saves her while using some sort of crystal. Unfortunately, it goes south when Ascension finds them, kills the scientist, and takes Lois as a hostage. We find out that Ascension is being lead by the grandson of the man who founded The Machine. They plan to use their crystals (which control technology) to set humanity back technology-wise. Also, Lex Luthor has escaped from prison and is going to use a kidnapped Jimmy Olsen for some plan to take out Superman.
Wow, only Lex Luthor can make something this innocent evil.

Perry White contacts Clark about this, so he and Wraith go to investigate Lois’s kidnapping. They find some clues and go to the Fortress of Solitude to get a better idea of what they’re dealing with. The stuff hits the fan when Wraith contacts Gen. Lane and tries to force Superman to join The Machine. Things get even worse when Batman contacts Superman about Ascension launching all of the world’s nuclear missiles. Superman and Wraith halt their spat to deal with the problem. While Superman goes off to find Ascension and stop them, Wraith heads off to just protect America’s interests. Luckily, Lois puts up a fight at Ascension’s headquarters as Superman shows up. He escapes with Lois and uses the crystal she had to stop the missiles.
Being friends with Batman really does help out sometimes.

Afterwards, Wraith attacks Superman and demands he hand over the crystal, but Superman (courtesy of Batman) uses what is essentially Wraith’s Kryptonite on Wraith. Lois and Superman head back to the Fortress and study the crystal. They end up getting surrounded by Gen. Lane’s forces at the Fortress while Wraith decides to get some revenge on Batman. Superman and Batman both put up fights at their respective places but are beaten down. Luckily, Lois uses the crystal to disable Lane’s mechs and Wonder Woman shows up to help Batman. When Superman realizes that Wraith has attacked two of his closest friends, let’s just say that this is where the “Unchained” part comes in.
Look, I know we don't need Batman here, but this is still cool!

Superman and Wraith’s battle goes from the Gobi desert to the moon and then to Earth’s core. Since Wraith’s weakness is apparently magma (?), Superman is able to take him down. He heads back to the decimated Fortress and realizes that Lois’s crystal is emitting a signal for a coming invasion. Suddenly, Jimmy somehow shows up (how did he get to the Arctic?) courtesy of Lex Luthor. He knows all about the invasion and realizes that Wraith and his ship was a “Trojan horse.” He has a way to stop the invasion that involves Superman injecting a serum that’ll turn him into a living bomb. Without any better options, Superman says his goodbyes and flies off.
Now this is sweet.

He goes off into space and faces the invading force. Unfortunately, they stop him in his tracks with their advanced tech. All seems lost until Wraith shows up. Wraith takes the serum, uses it on himself, and forces Superman away from the battle. Wraith’s explosion takes out the force and all is saved. Luthor is recaptured and Clark heads to Smallville in order to recuperate. The story ends as he and Lois talk on the phone.
Yes, I do miss their relationship. Wonder Woman's alright, but this just looked and felt better.

In the end, I thought that this was a decent story but not a really good one. First off, I did like most of the story. The first few issues were pretty good and building up to something big. While Clark has his brash, stubborn moments (it’s the New 52, ya’ll), I did like him in the story overall. I also thought it was cool that Lois played a big role in this. The current stuff hasn’t done her too well, but I thought she was well represented here. Lex Luthor was cool all the way through as well. Even though Batman felt a little shoe-horned in, I did like him here as well as Clark’s and Bruce’s relationship.
Huh... Considering what Superman goes through, I can actually see this coming in handy. Like now.

Then we get to Wraith who is part of the topic for this month. He was fine for the story. He kind of reminded me of Maul from the WildC.A.T.S. and Darkseid. He was basically a more militant version of Superman. He’d protect America’s interests but that’s about it. He wasn't an all-out bad guy. His other powers were also pretty interesting. I liked how he and Superman played off one another with their different ideologies. Their team-ups and fights between each other were really entertaining especially their final bout. I will say that his endpoint was a bit disappointing especially since it felt pretty rushed. I’ll get to the ending below though.

The artwork was fine as a whole. It’s Jim Lee, so you know that there’s a possibility that it’ll be good. It had that dynamic, epic feel that he always brings to books. While there were some points where it's not that great, I did like it. My only complaint is pretty much the same thing I said about him some time ago. His artwork tends to overshadow the story and this becomes a bigger thing later on in the final issues. What was the point for that four-page poster anyway? While it looked cool, it was annoying to take out of the first issue. I also thought Dustin Nguyen’s art was pretty good. I didn’t mention the flashback scene in the synopsis since it really doesn’t tie into the main story, but that was pretty good as well.

Now, there were some things I wasn’t a fan of. I wasn’t a fan of the inclusion of General Lane. Ever Since the whole “New Krypton” storyline, writers have tried to basically make him into General Ross from the Incredible Hulk. His constant loudmouth attitude made him pretty annoying especially towards the end. I’m not exactly a fan of Superman going up against the US military anyway.  It’s kind of a played-out fad now since it tends to happen a lot ever since the New Krypton arc from a few years ago. Also, Clark does seem a little dimwitted at points. I know it’s the New 52, but at this point, he’s been on the job for at least 6 years.

Finally, there’s the rushed nature of the latter issues. While the first third and second third of the story was paced well, I did feel like the last third was rushed. The last issue especially felt rushed with the ending it had. An invasion fleet gets mentioned within a few pages and then taken out in a few pages. It only felt long with all those splash pages thrown in at the end. Wraith’s sacrifice also comes out of nowhere even though it was a nice moment. I can definitely tell that this story was supposed to go longer and it sucks that it didn’t get to do that. It may read better in a trade but it doesn't read well as separate issues.

Overall, it was an okay story. It’s not perfect, but there are enough things to like about it. As for Wraith, he probably won’t be back. It doesn’t mean that we might get other analogues created to be similar to Superman in the current universe. In fact, we had another one introduced during Geoff Johns’ return to Superman. He’s named Ulysses and he is still around in the universe. I won’t be looking at the Johns/Romita arc but the podcast, Hey Kids, Comics!, covered that story in pretty interesting detail. By the way, I thought it was alright but it's not the greatest thing ever. Well, I think it’s time to finally look at Marvel's crazy boy. Peace, God Bless, and someone make me an awesome suit of armor for my birthday!


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